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September 2010 News

Motohistory Quiz #83:

We have a winner!


Mark McGrew, of M3 Racing USA, was the first to identify our quiz vehicle as a Honda UL 175 White Fox.  Say you never heard of it?  Many people haven't.

In the late 1960s, snowmobiles became a booming business in North America.  What had previously been used for limited rescue and utilitarian purposes suddenly became the latest craze as a personal recreational vehicle, at least in the snow belt.  All of the leading motorcycle manufacturers rushed to get their piece of the pie, including Honda.  Masa Suzuki, who was Director at American Honda at the time, urged R&D in Japan to get cracking on a product for what appeared to be a lucrative new market.


At least three very different prototypes were developed, ranging from a 175cc lightweight to a monster powered by a version of the new 750 Four.  The design Honda chose to introduce in America was the UL175 White Fox, pictured in our quiz.  It was a 178cc two-stroke, rear engine (pictured above) machine for one person.  Weighing a little more than 200 pounds, Honda conceived of it as a family recreational vehicle, operable even by youngsters, that could slide into the back of a station wagon.  It leaned when turning, somewhat like a motorcycle.


Honda produced approximately 200 units of the White Fox and distributed them to American dealers in 1972.  Then, immediately, the program was canceled and the vehicles were recalled to be sent to the crusher.  Honda had become a company pursuing a positive environmental image, and America was then plunging into its first so-called energy crisis.  Honda figured the profits the little White Fox might yield would not be worth the bashing the company could receive for introducing a frivolous, gas-guzzling toy at a time when there were fuel shortages.


In retrospect, it may have been a wise decision for other reasons that Honda could not have anticipated at that time.  Masa Suzuki was also the driving force behind the three-wheeled ATC, which by the late 1970s had incurred the wrath of the American safety community and the U.S. government for all of the Japanese manufacturers, and especially for Honda.  In this climate, it is likely that the White Fox also might have been denounced as an irresponsible and dangerous toy aimed at young people.  Fortunately, thanks to the early crush order, we’ll never know.


It is believed that few White Foxes escaped the crusher.  The example pictured in our quiz is part of the Bob Logue collection on display at Bob Logue Motorsports in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.  To read our recent feature about the Bob Logue Museum, go to Motohistory News & Views 8/13/2010.

McGrew, who reports he owns two White Foxes, writes:

There's a funny story about the White Fox.  After the few they had left in Gardena lay around for awhile, someone took off the track and skis, added a solid rear axel and front & rear wheels, and this became prototype for Honda Odyssey ATV vehicle.

Thanks, Mark, for that interesting bit of motohistory, and congratulations on becoming our latest Motohistory-Know-It-All.

To learn more about McGrew's M3 Racing, click here.   


Motohistory Quiz #83



Okay, Motohistorians, it is time for another Motohistory Quiz.  We keep coming up with these bizarre non-motorcycles, but, trust us, this has something to do with the motorcycle industry.


The first person to tell us what this is and give us its model name will be declared our next Motohistory Know-It-All, complete with his or her personalized diploma. 


Here are some hints: It is not a lunar lander.  It is not a home exercise device.  It is not a mutant JetSki.


Go to your keyboard and be the first to correctly answer this quiz to earn fame and fortune.  Send your answer to Ed@Motohistory.net



The dreams of O. Ray Courtney



One night in March, 1950, O. Ray Courtney worked until two a.m., and drove home discouraged.  He was trying to design a better motorcycle.  That night in a dream, he saw a streamlined beauty skim across a flowered field.*


The vision that came to Courtney in his dream would become a futuristic motorcycle called the Enterprise.  In truth, however, hehad been dreaming of a more civilized and comfortable machine for road-going motorcyclists since the 1930s.


Orley Ray Courtney (pictured in the back row, on the left) was born in New Cardon, Indiana, on July 14, 1895, the second of five children born to Anna Jennetta Imel and William Lewis Courtney.  Ray took his first motorcycle ride at the age of 13 and got his first big bike—a 1916 three-speed Excelsior—at the age of 21.   He served in the Army Air Corps during the First World War, as a young man worked at Central Manufacturing Company in Connersville, Indiana, making body panels and fenders for luxury cars, including McFarland and Deusenberg.  Later he moved to Michigan where he worked for the Oldsmobile Division of General Motors and at Kaiser-Frazer.  Courtney (pictured below) was of the opinion that the motorcycle industry had gone overboard for speed and high performance, and that choices for the road-going motorcyclist were far too limited because designers paid scant attention to comfort and protection from bad weather and poor road conditions.  He believed there was a place for a new style of modern, unconventional machine that two people could ride in style and comfort.


The years between the two world wars were a fertile time for dreamers. designers, and modernists.  It was the era when car designers stopped thinking of automobiles as utilitarian buggies and wagons with motors, and started understanding them as enclosed spaces to deliver speed, comfort, and pleasure to their passengers.  The knowledge of aerodynamics that had emerged from the aircraft industry influenced everything--either materially or symbolically--from automobiles to sky scrapers.  Streamlining became the modern craze in industrial design.  In addition to cars, trains, and other things that actually moved, there were streamlined toasters, streamlined radios, and streamlined cigarette lighters.  This was the era when Ray Courtney lived his most productive years; the era that delivered the GG1 locomotive, the Auburn 851 Boattail Speedster, the 810 Cord, and the Empire State Building.    Courtney possessed the vision of a Raymond Loewy or a Gordon Buehrig in the field of vehicle design, but he understood more than just a graceful line, since his patents included also designs for an aircraft wing (pictured right) and an articulated snow scooter that surely was influenced by a keen understanding of motorcycle dynamics. 


Courtney's first interpretation of a thoroughly modern and unconventional motorcycle emerged in 1934 in the form of a Henderson-powered machine that was like nothing that had come before it.  Sitting low on 10-inch wheels, its chassis was fully enclosed in a gracefully shaped shell that began with a rounded nose and grille like a '34 Chrysler Airflow (below right), and ended with a boat tail reminiscent of the Auburn Speedster (below left).  Between was a Coke bottle shaped body with a low seat for a single passenger, who rested his feet on floorboards.  The body of the Henderson was shaped entirely by Courtney from steel, using a power hammer.  The hidden chassis had a modified Henderson KJ front fork and a complicated arrangement in the rear that contained front suspension parts from an automobile.  The vehicle also had hydraulic brakes.  The finished product is so breath-taking, it is difficult to do it justice with photographs.  Seen in the flesh, one has a hard time taking his eyes off of the creation.  The endless curves are simply seductive, and from every angle one sees new subtlety in the continuity of its form. 


The streamlined Henderson was a pure concept vehicle, built to express modern ideas and an artistic vision.  A conservative motorcycle community simply did not understand it.  References to it in print often used the term “Buck Rogers,” treating it like something out of a futuristic cartoon.  Furthermore, concept vehicles often exploit shapes and materials that simply cannot be reproduced cost-effectively in serial production.  This was the case with Courtney's Henderson.  He put nine months into shaping a body that would have been very difficult to duplicate in any significant quantity.  And, the motorcycle, though beautiful, is not a comfortable ride.  The seating position is very cramped, especially for a tall person. 


Courtney must have understood there was a middle ground between his ultimate vision and conventional and practical motorcycle design, because in 1941 he patented the idea of applying his fully enclosed fenders to a standard motorcycle (pictured right).  We should remember that Indian introduced its full-skirted fenders the year prior.  This may have been a signal to Courtney that the public had become more accepting of extensive and stylish sheet metal on a motorcycle, but his patented design may have also been his statement that Indian had missed the mark; that it had fallen short of real streamlined design.  There has been no record found that Courtney prototyped these fenders or attempted to market them.  Perhaps he thought that eventually the leading brands--Harley and Indian--would have to arrive at this stylistic conclusion, and when that happened he would be ready with his patents in hand.  Of course, it did not happen.  In the mean time, Courtney had carried on with his day job, shaping medal for the prototypes coming out of the design departments of Detroit.  While metal was his forte, he also worked at the drawing board, in one case making a significant contribution to the body design of the 1933 Oldsmobile. 


Courtney and his wife, Grace, had two children: Ray William, born in 1924, and Marjie Jean, born in 1928 (all pictured above, circa 1945).  At some point after the Second World War, Courtney opened a business in Pontiac called Enterprise--in partnership with Ray W.--where they did specialty body work and fabricated and repaired body panels for racing cars.  But his dream remained, only now he wanted to find a way to apply the ideas of his Henderson special to a more practical motorcycle that could be produced commercially.  The concept of a low, comfortable, practical streamlined motorcycle eluded him until that night early in 1950 when he saw the machine, gliding through his dreams.  Pictured here is the drawing that Courtney made from his dream, which he decided to call Enterprise. 


Enterprise (pictured below) was longer than the Henderson, mainly because Courtney wanted ample room for two passengers.  It had a 58-inch wheelbase and was 112 inches from end to end.  Its wheels were 6 x 9 inches, even smaller than the Henderson.  The controls were moved far forward, to make for a long seat and to place the rider ahead of the engine.  The handlebars were attached by drag links to the steering head, which was just in front of the rider.  Three gallons of fuel was carried in the nose, above the front wheel.  One could simply lift the seat to get access to the engine, and a car trunk-like lid could be raised for access to the rear wheel and internal cargo spaces.  Courtney chose an Indian Scout engine for power, which would be far less costly and more readily available than the four-cylinder Henderson, but he designed his chassis to accept any number of engines. 


The Enterprise, which reportedly cost $5,000 to develop, remained a work in progress.  Drawings still exist of differing body styles (pictured above), and while a 1953 Popular Science article about the machine shows twin shocks front and rear, the Enterprise that survives intact today features sophisticated monoshock suspension on both ends.  Pictured left is the patent drawing for said suspension, and below is an image of the rear suspension of the surviving Indian-powered Enterprise.  It is clear that Courtney’s basic design and subsequent revisions of the Enterprise were aimed at a commercial product.  We do not know to what extent he may have tried to sell his concept to an outside manufacturer, but we do know that he devoted considerable effort to national publicity and even produced a brochure to promote the sale of one-off replicas.  A buyer could deliver the engine of his choice to Courtney, and he would custom-build an Enterprise for $2,500.  In 1953, this was an astronomical sum for a motorcycle when you could buy a new top-of-the-line Chevrolet Bel-Air for about $1,800.  Unorthodox styling aside, price alone probably explains why there is no record of an Enterprise being built for a customer. 


During his time in Pontiac, Ray Courtney met another motorcycle dreamer of a somewhat different ilk.  Ron Finch, who would become an American icon in custom motorcycle design and fabrication, lived not far from Courtney.  They came from different cultures, and there was 41 years difference their ages, but the men grew to admire the craftsmanship and creativity of one-another.  Finch recalls, “He was not a biker like me, but lived in a society where men wore a white shirts and ties.  You would not say we were friends, but we respected each other as artists.  He knew a lot more than I did at that time, and when I ran into some kind of problem with fabricating something, I would go see him.  He always had a solution and was always very helpful.”


After Courtney's death in April, 1982, Finch bought both the KJ Henderson streamliner and the Enterprise.  A decade later he sold them to Mike Gagliotti, a New York collector, and in July of 2001 Gagliotti sold them to Frank Westfall of Syracuse, New York (pictured here starting the Enterprise).  Westfall recalls, “It was on a Friday the 13th, which I now consider my luckiest day.”  Along with the two motorcycles came a nice collection of Ray Courtney memorabilia, including the originals of his U.S., British, and French patents; clippings and magazine articles about the two motorcycles, photographs, drawings, and some of the awards the builder had received at various automobile expos.  The motorcycles were in very different conditions.  The Enterprise was in original paint, and basically intact.  On the other hand, the Henderson was in piles and boxes, making it necessary to complete a full restoration.  That job, conducted by Pat Murphy (pictured above with Westfall) over the period of a year, resulted in a stunning beauty that created a sensation when it was shown earlier this year at the national antique motorcycle meet at Rhinebeck, New York.  Murphy, the first man since Ray Courtney who has seen the KJ in bare metal, expresses astonishment about Courtney's work, stating, “It is of heavy-gauge steel, and you can't imagine the number of panels and welds he did to get those shapes.  It is hard to imagine the care and time that must have gone into it.”  Pictured above and right are the raw front and rear body panels of the Henderson.


Westfall is a collector who places a premium on original paint motorcycles, of which he owns many.  About the Henderson he says, “We had no choice; it required a full restoration, and I think the results have justified the decision.”  As for the Enterprise, he has a different opinion.  “No way,” he says,” is this motorcycle going to be restored or repainted.  It is all there; a beautiful and unique example of American automotive art and Ray Courtney's futuristic vision.”  Westfall adds, “Think how lucky we are.  Ray Courtney's body of work--his two motorcycles and supporting artifacts--have been passed down intact over a period of more than half a century.  Ray Courtney was a great designer and dreamer in an age of great American designers and dreamers, and we still have the best examples of his dreams; the KJ Henderson and the Enterprise.”


To view the article about Courtney and the Enterprise that appeared in Popular Science in 1953 (pictured below right), click here.  To see Courtney's patent for motorcycle rear wheel cowling that ultimately appeared on the Enterprise, click here.  To see Courtney's patent formotorcycle front wheel cowlingthat ultimately appeared on theEnterprise, click here.  To see Courtney's patent for a motorcycle full body similar to the Enterprise, click here. To see Courtney's patent for a motorcycle featuring streamlined wheel covers similar to the Henderson, click here.  To see Courtney's patent for his monoshock motorcycle suspension system, click here.  To see Courtney's patent for the Henderson streamlined body, click here.  To see Courtney's patent for aircraft wing design, click here.  To see the patent for Courtney's articulated ski sled, click here.  To read our prior feature about Frank Westfall, go to Motohistory News & Views 8/30/2010.

O. Ray, in his day

Ray Courtney's Enterprise made it onto the cover of the March, 1953 Popular Science, and a feature article covered the philosophy and technology of the motorcycle in considerable detail.  Beyond the Enterprise story (pictured below), we found it enlightening to peruse the whole of the magazine for an understanding of the America in which Courtney worked and lived.  For example, the cover price of the magazine is 25 cents.  Compare that to what newsstand magazines cost now.  In fact, magazines aside, what can you buy for 25 cents today?


Both the ads and the articles indicate there was a lot of do-it-yourself going on in the 1950s.  There are ads for boat kits, how to tune your car for better performance, how to tile your kitchen and bathroom floors, how to install central air conditioning, how to raise orchids.  There are scads of ads for correspondence schools that will make you a high-earning television repairman, heavy equipment operator, landscaper, or diesel mechanic overnight.  And remember Charles Atlas?  He's there, promising that no one will kick sand in your face, ever again. 


There is an article telling us how we are going to live on Mars (how many times has that idea been revisited?), one on the pros and cons of rear-engine cars, and an announcement of the new Chevrolet Corvette, which an awestruck PS calls a “plastic car.”  Speaking of cars, there are ads for many brands that are no longer with us: Nash, Packard, Studebaker, and even King Midget, for example.  And we shouldn't have to tell you that there's an ad for Whzzer motorbikes.  There's also a full-page ad for the Harley-Davidson Hydra-Glide, urging you to send in 25 cents for a sample of the action-packed, picture-filled Enthusiast magazine.


Finally, the back cover reminds us that cigarettes where really classy in O.Ray's day.  Tyrone Power tells us that if we'll just try Camels for 30 days, we'll understand why it is America's most popular cigarette.  We might also find that it takes less than 30 days to get hooked.  


*Callout from Popular Science, March 1953.

Much thanks to Frank Westfall for assistance with research.               



Cannonball Rally dominates

September motohistory


The Cannonball Rally, which challenged intrepid men and women to ride pre-1916 motorcycles from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina to Santa Monica, California in 16 days, has become a dominant news story for both motohistorians and the public at large.  Many motorcycle forums and bloggers followed the progress of the 3,300-mile journey, often on a daily basis.  Those along the route reported that the pubic turned out in significant numbers to see the passing of the ancient machines, and that there was a constant escort of fans on modern motorcycles.


In the end, 37 of the 45 machines entered completed the course, and ten riders arrived in California without having lost a single point.  Brad Wilmarth (pictured above) won overall aboard his Class II direct-drive 1913 Excelsior, beating a squad of Class III three-speed Harleys.  Class III was won by Rick McMaken aboard a 1915 Harley-Davidson, and Class I was won by German rider Katrin Boehner aboard a 1907 250cc single-cylinder JAP (pictured above with Jeff Decker).  Not only was it tiny compared to the 1,000cc American twins that dominated the field, but it was the oldest motorcycle in the rally.  Furthermore, with direct drive and no clutch, each time Boehner came to a stop sign, she had to kill the engine, then push and bump-start the bike to get underway.  To see the final results of the 2010 Pre-1916 Motorcycle Cannonball Rally, click here.


While it was Boehner, McMaken, and Wilmarth who gathered the glory, it was in fact the American antique motorcycling community that won the Cannonball.  Organizer Lonnie Isam said, “Everybody had been talking about us making history with this ride, and I think we did.”  The lion’s share of publicity earned by the event can be credited to effective use of the interent. The excellent official web site for the rally carried extensive pre-event news, then reported daily updates.  Some of the most thorough and insightful--and amusing--coverage appeared on the Antique Motorcycle Club of America web site, penned by Bill Wood, who served as driver of the sweep truck and thereby became affectionately known as “The Angel of Death.”  Bryan Harley (not a pen name) reported on MotorcycleUSA while leading bloggers Paul d'Orleans, The Vintagent, and Cyril Huze provided timely coverage.  Somer Hooker has shared photos on his SmugMug page, and extensive video has appeared on YouTube.  Local stories have been too extensive to enumerate here.  Go to Google for more. 

Photos courtesy of Bill Wood, Antique Motorcycle Club of America.



Bill's Old Bike Barn:

Don't let the name fool you



A short distance north of I-80, along Route 11, are Bill's Custom Cycles and Bill's Old Bike Barn, owned by William Morris, a lifelong resident of the small Pennsylvania town of Bloomsburg.  The bike shop is a nondescript white building with minimal signage that seems to be there only for the convenience of those who are looking for it.  Here, Bill runs a custom restoration shop for Harley-Davidsons, plus a Harley parts business.  Just south of the shop is a lane that leads up a forested hill into a clearing where you'll find Bill's Old Bike Barn.  The full-size bison and Triceratops statues guarding the road suggest that you may be in for an interesting experience.  You are, and our visit was especially interesting since we got a personal tour by Bill himself, with the help of Jordie, a brilliant red parrot sitting on his shoulder. 


Bill's Old Bike Barn is overwhelming from the first step inside the door.  With more than 40,000 square feet of floor space, with as many artifacts hanging from the ceilings as are placed on the floor and mezzanines, it is a riot of motorcycles, memorabilia, antique furniture, costumed mannequins, and curiosities that draw the eye here, there, and above, making it difficult to initially focus on a single thing.  So rich and diverse is the display, you immediately conclude that the name “Old Bike Barn” sells it short.  Yes, there is a collection of more than 150 rare and beautiful motorcycles on display, but it is a mere portion of what is here to be seen, studied, and enjoyed.  You've heard of the “Smithsonian attic,” where all that Americana is stored away?  I think this is it.  But it's not just Americana.  There are French, German, Italian, Austrian, and British motorcycles as well, and fine examples of European 18th century inlaid furniture.  There's even a Kettenkrad (pictured left), that curious combination of tank and motorcycle that NSU built during the Second World War, and a similar tread-driven three-wheeler built by Moto Guzzi.   


Presentation is as impressive as content.  Just off the main hall, one enters Billville, a brick-paved street with shops on either side.  It includes a post office with antique brass letter boxes, a bar outfitted with 1939 New York World's Fair memorabilia (it is the year Bill was born), a music shop displaying dozens of vintage instruments, a tobacco shop, a model train store, a camera shop with hundreds of antique cameras, and a beautiful restaurant and sidewalk cafe surrounded by filigreed wrought-iron from Belgium.  There's an Avon Lady's house with a vast array of collectible bottles and containers, and even a foundry containing over 2,000 Harley-Davidson cylinders waiting to be machined (pictured left).  In a second main room of the museum is a large military display, complete with a fox hole and a big awning made from a 1940s parachute.  There are cutaway engines, hundreds of car and motorcycle badges, and even a hallway that chronicles the fate of the American motorcycle industry.  On the left are advertisements and posters of long-standing companies that are still with us.  On the right are those of the companies that are long gone.  


Bill's personal story with motorcycles began in 1960 when someone gave him a 1941 Harley Knucklehead.  He recalls, “I started buying junkers for parts, and I was pretty much in business, selling the parts that I did not need to other people.”  In 1966, he went to work for Fuller's Harley-Davidson in Berwick, Pennsylvania, then in 1970 opened his own custom shop.  He started buying out Harley-Davidson dealers, and set up a catalog and mail-order business for non-current Harley parts.  Bill says, “Over the years, I have bought out 23 Harley dealers.”  Along with those dealerships came a lot of Harley-Davidson signs, and these led to a life-changing conflict that led indirectly to the creation of the museum.  He explains, “I had a collection of Harley-Davidson signs hanging everywhere.  Outside the building, inside the building, from the ceiling, everywhere.”  Because Bill was not and did not intend to become a franchised dealer, Harley-Davidson sued him for trademark infringement and impermissible use of the Bar and Shield. 


It was a landmark case that laid the battle lines and ultimately confirmed the Motor Company's right to own and defend its copyrights.  Bill won initially, but subsequently lost in a court of appeals.  He recalls, “I was mad as hell at the time, but I also realized that the case gave me a lot of good publicity.  It hit newspapers across the country, and I became the underdog, battling big, bad corporate America.”  After Harley-Davidson won its appeal, Bill's attorney said, “Look, I can spend a lot more of your money and take this to the state supreme court, but you will probably lose there.  Why don't you take down these signs, go up onto the hill behind your shop, and start a museum?”  Now, with the benefit of hindsight, Bill views his war with Harley-Davidson a little more philosophically.  He says, “It is not illegal to display the signs.  It is illegal to use them with a non-franchised Harley-Davidson-based business, which is what I was doing.  Not only did the case give me great publicity, but now I realize that what Harley did was make me do it right.  The signs provided the beginning for this museum.”


Having to take down his signs also did not hurt his business.  Morris continued to buy up Harley-Davidson dealers, and he even bought a huge cache of AMF-era parts from the Motor Company.  That's where his hoard of cylinders came from.  After machining and selling more than 4,000, he consigned the remainder to his foundry exhibit in the museum.  In the mean time, the internet had arrived to expand his parts business exponentially, in both volume and outreach.  He says, “The internet has enabled me to do business that would have been otherwise impossible.”  The example he sites was the acquisition of a vast inventory of AMF Harley snowmobile parts.  He says, “I had 400 hoods, 700 seats, thousands of belts, hundreds of windshields, and I sold them all to an international customer base over the internet.”  Selling on line became so reliable that Bill's Custom Cycles ceased printing a catalog a decade ago. 


Reflecting on these developments, Bill looks about his vast collection in the museum and says, “Much of this was made possible by the internet.”  Morris finds it ironic, this successful junction between digital communication and simpler times.  He says, “I think people come here to lose themselves.  I think they come to get lost in their past, their memories, and things they understand.”  He adds, “People are so overwhelmed with the pace of society, the amount of information, their cell phones and computers, I think they come here to find relief.  I watch visitors spend hours here, with smiles on their faces.  They appear stressed out when they arrive, and at peace when they leave.” 


If preservation of the past made possible by the internet seems counter-intuitive, so is Bill's pricing strategy.  For an educational and entertainment experience that could easily demand $20, Morris charges $6, or $5 each for groups.  This is not charity, he says, but good business.  He explains, “We get a lot of return traffic.  We're the best tourist attraction in this area, and when people come to visit the locals, they bring them here.  We see the same people again and again, bringing groups of three or four or more.  I don't think this would happen if you hit them for $20 each.”  It's a philosophy that seems to work, and it draws the bus tours to, which cater to senior people who may have fixed incomes and limited resources.  Bill's Old Bike Barn offers such an overwhelming spectacle of history and Americana, it is quite impossible to take it in on a single visit, so anyone who sees it will want to return again and again.  And, as we said, it is about a great deal more than just motorcycles.


So the next time you are crossing Pennsylvania on I-80, take Exit 232 and drive just a couple of miles north to Bill's Old Bike Barn.  Check its web site for times, because it is not open every day.  We promise you won't be disappointed, and we suspect you'll want to plan a future visit as well. To visit Bill's Old Bike Barn's excellent web site, click here.  To learn more about Bill's Custom Cycles, click here.




Consignments are now being accepted for the Bator International Auction that will be held October 8 at the Barber Vintage Festival.  For more information, click here.  To learn more about the 6th Annual Barber Vintage Festival, to be held at Barber Motorsports Park, near Birmingham, Alabama, October 8 through 10, click here.


The 2011 (7th Annual) Calender by the Penton Owners Group is now available.  The price is $16, postage paid.  Make out checks or money orders to the POG and send to PO Box 101, White Cottage, OH 43791.  For more information about the Penton Owners Group, click here.  


OSSA, one of the big three Spanish brands, is making a comeback with an observed trials bike, designated the TR280i.  Rumor has it that a retro-two-stroke twin road bike is in development that may carry the Yankee name.  To see the new trials bike, click here.  For a comprehensive list and photos of OSSA models from 1951 through 1985, click here.  For more OSSA history, click here


Speaking of things Spanish, were you aware that the U.S. distributor for GasGas has created a museum?  Well, it is not a bricks-and-mortar museum yet, but it is still cool, with lots of informative material.  To visit the virtual GasGas Museum, click here.


Greeves also appears to be returning to the market with an observed trials motorcycle, though the venture seems to be of a more limited nature than OSSA’s.  For more information about the new-tech Greeves trials bike on the web site of the Greeves Riders Association, click here.  While you’re at the site, you may want to check out their brief history of the brand.  Click here.     


The Antique Motorcycle Club of America has created a bright, new web site.  One of the most popular features of the site is its forum where members share valuable information about preserving, restoring, and protecting rare and antique motorcycles.  To check out the new site—pictured here—click here


Now there’s an aftermarket Norton Featherbed-type frame to hold your Harley-Davidson engine. It’s called—you guessed it—a Norley!  Click here.


To see Shrimp Burns burning up the boards at Beverly Hills in 1921, click here


There’s always a good mix of current news and motohistory on Larry Lawrence’s blog, The Rider Files.  Click here.


A project is underway to create a museum at Bonneville to honor the men and women, machines, and world records that have made the place the world's shrine to speed.  For more information, click here.


For video of the 2010 Davenport vintage dirt track races, click here.


For a droll satire of the BMW mystique, click here.


Will Stoner has released his schedule of upcoming Classic Swap Meets.  These will include Medina, Ohio November 7, York, Pennsylvania November 14, Medina February 19, 2011, York March 12, and the Road America Motorcycle Classic at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin June 10 through 12.  For more information, click here.


The 5th Annual Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame Induction Banquet and Reunion will take place November 6 at the Delta Burnaby Hotel and Conference Center in Burnaby, British Columbia.  It is the first time the ceremony will be held in Western Canada.  For more information, click here.


In that smaller country to the south, the AMA Legends & Champions Weekend will be held November 19 through 21 at the Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa in Las Vegas.  For details, click here.


A blog that has done a great job of covering the Cannonball Rally is Pete Young’s Occhio Lungo.  Click here.


For a schedule of Walneck’s Motorcycle Swap Meets and Shows, click here.




The Colemans: Kiwis on the grass in New Zealand . . . on the road in Europe,” by Rod Coleman, is a memoir about early grass track champion Perry Coleman and his sons Rob and Bob.  Writing in a comfortable style, Coleman offers a vivid picture of what chasing the road racing grands pix was like in the 1950s, when all but the very top riders traveled in vans, camped out, and lived on a wing and a prayer to keep their motorcycles running to make it to the next GP.  Rod’s international career began in 1949 when he became part-time crew on a steamer to earn his passage to Europe.  With just ten shillings in his pocket, he survived by gambling at cards, bought drinks for the crowd when he won, and got off the boat in Tilbury with 11 shillings in his pocket.  For his debut at the Isle of Man, he hit a hedge, broke his jaw, reset it himself, applied tape and plaster to his face, ate through a straw for the next month, and went on to compete—broken jaw and all—in the Dutch TT and the Belgian GP.  It was an inauspicious beginning for the man who would go on to win the Junior TT for AJS in 1954. The book is filled with wonderful tales of life on the road.  It also contains insightful chapters about other important personalities of the era, including Matt Wright, Jack Williams, Joe Craig, and Leo Kuzmichi.  At 264 pages, this book is packed with period photos, and also includes an appendix with results and records from the period.  It is an enjoyable and nostalgic read that any motohistorian will enjoy.


Editor's Note:  Rod Coleman's book is privately published and not available in bookstores.  It has gone into three reprints, but a limited quantity is still available from the author.  Coleman has also authored another ten books about motorcycle racing history.  To learn more about the Coleman bibliography, or to acquire a copy of any of his books, E-mail Rod Coleman at rodcoleman@nettel.net.nz.



The Sammy Miller Museum Collection: Road Machines,” by Roy Poynting, with foreword by Alan Cathcart, is a classy and beautifully-designed book containing text and gorgeous photography of more than a hundred rare and unusual road bikes in the Sammy Miller Collection.  It is a companion piece to a previously-published book about the racing machines in the Miller collection.  In soft cover, at 220 pages, it contains more than 500 museum-quality photographs of the motorcycles in profile, plus close-up details.  You find such unusual bikes as the AJW Silver Fox, the Alldays Matchless (nothing to do with the better-known Matchless), the Ascot Pulling, the Haythorn Four, the Redrup Radial Three, the Stranger, and more.  It is available from Redline Books.  To order, click here


As always, the November issue of IronWorks contains a lot that will be of interest to the motohistorian.  Margie Siegal's “Seasoned Citizen” feature homes in on a 1940 Indian Sporty Scout Flat Tracker built by Al Lauer, of Sacramento, and currently owned by Brian Stearns.  Stephen Jacobson provides excellent photography of this classic tracker that was originally set up by Lauer for his son Gus.  Fans of Period Modified motorcycles will enjoy the feature about Roberto Rossi, on Mantova, Italy, one of that nation's leading Harley-Davidson enthusiasts.  Shovels, Knuckles, and even XR engines power Rossi's potent, purposeful street machines.  And, there is a story by Marilyn Stemp about a durable Panhead that has served four owners 62 years, all from the same family, the Salernos of Pittsburgh.  To subscribe to IronWorks, click here.  


Issue #43 of VMX has arrived.  KTM and Penton lovers will enjoy the feature about the world's largest collection of the brands, owned by Arnaldo Farioli of Bergamo, Italy.  There's a reason Farioli got a head start in this game, because he was Italy's first Penton importer in the late 1960s when John Penton showed the Austrian KTM firm what would sell to the public and work in the dirt.  There are also stories about a CZ ridden by Jaroslav Falta in 1974, Australian Frank Stanborough's gorgeous Manx Norton Metisse street scrambler special, a 1979 Dick Mann Honda XR500. and the vintage racing scenes in Belgium, New Zealand, and Canada.  As always, heavy stock, beautiful photography, and quality printed.  To subscribe the VMX, click here

The 1986 Motocross des Nations squad of David Bailey, Rick Johnson, and Johnny O’Mara have often been designated America’s “dream team,” but the November issue of Racer X Illustrated challenges this claim.  In an article by Eric Johnson entitled “The Other Dream Team,” the author—through interviews with both American team members and foreign riders, builds the argument that the 1996 squad of Jeff Emig, Jeremy McGrath, and Steve Lamson was even stronger.  Photography is by Publisher Davey Coombs and Motociclismo.  A sidebar presents career stats for the members of both ’86 and ’96 teams.  To subscribe to Racer X Illustrated, click here.      

Returning to Anamosa



In June, we had an opportunity to pay a pre-opening visit to the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa Iowa (see Motohistory News & Views 6/30/2010).  The museum, founded in 1989, has been in downtown Anamosa for many years, but is now undergoing a move to a significantly larger facility on the outskirts of the city.  The former WalMart building provides 36,000 square feet of space that will include 25,000 square feet of exhibits, administrative offices, and a 3,000 square foot banquet and conference center.  When we visited in June, only two exhibits had been completed, and most of the interior remained under construction.  The floor plan and exhibits are being designed by Mark Mederski, former director of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum in Pickerington, Ohio.


Over the Labor Day weekend, we paid another exhibit, and found the transformation remarkable.  With many of the permanent and larger fixtures installed, the museum now displays more than 320 motorcycles from every era and of almost every imaginable style.  Some of the unique bikes on display include Wild Bill Gelbke's notorious Roadog, a locomotive-like monstrosity created to cop the title of “world's largest motorcycle (pictured above), a rare French bicycle pacing machine, several Bonneville streamliners, and a number of art bikes and customs, including an excellent retrospective on the body of work created by Arlen Ness.  In addition to the hundreds of beautiful and unusual motorcycles, there are literally tens of thousands of artifacts, including, sculpture, paintings, posters, photographs, trophies, toys, motorcycle clothing and accessories, and documents. 


We've seen many museum create a board track exhibit, mounting motorcycles on a tilted board wall to simulate the motordromes of the early days of the 20th century.  Most have failed with these presentations, hanging motorcycles so visitors see mostly their top in a way that does no justice to either the bike or the true nature of a board track.  Under Mederski's direction, the Museum has constructed a huge board track exhibit seen in the lead picture of this story) that both reveals how the tracks were constructed and shows the motorcycles to good advantage, from both sides.  This structure is not just a section of wall, but sweeps out of a banked turn onto the straight, showing the complex vertical and horizontal curves that were required to build the larger facilities, such as those at Sheepshead Bay and Playa Del Rey.  The end of the track is unfinished, allowing visitors to see how the boards were laid on their side and how the trusses beneath were constructed.  The display is visible from two sides, allowing the visitor to see both sides of the rare racing machines depicted, including Indian, Harley-Davidson, and Flying Merkel.


We found it very interesting that the vast majority of motorcycles are totally accessible to visitors, with no surrounding barriers.  We don't know if it will be practical to continue this policy, but we found it refreshing to be able to stand so close and walk around most of the machines.  Most of the motorcycles on display are owned by John Parham, president of the non-profit organization that governs the National Motorcycle Museum; but some are on loan.  Parham has had a world-class collection for many years, but now there is a world-class facility in which to display them. 


One of the big debates in locating any museum in a country as large as the United States is whether to place it in a densely-populated area that is usually remote from the opposite side of the nation, or whether to go for a geographical center where it is theoretically accessible to everyone.  The problem with this is the there are not a lot of people in the heartland, so a cynic could say that such a museum is equally inaccessible to everyone.  The National Motorcycle Museum has already created a reputation as a destination to which enthusiasts will travel from long distances, in part because it is “on the way” to Sturgis or the AMCA National Meet at Davenport.   The new facility offers an even stronger argument for this heartland location.  Whether you live in New York or California, Washington or Florida, this museum is worth it.  Start planning your trips now.  To access the National Motorcycle Museum's web site, click here.



Cycle News stops the presses



On the last day of August, Cycle News, the benchmark for print motorcycle news media in the United States, ceased publication, ending 45 years of faithfully supplying news about the motorcycle sport and industry on a timely basis.  Insiders in the motorcycle industry had seen it coming for some time, but hoped a solution would be found to save what has become an institution in American motorcycling.  Over the last decade, Cycle News, like all print news media, had faced tough and growing competition from web sites—including its own—then during the last two years, recession delivered the final blow as advertising dried up. 


Cycle News began in September, 1965 when Chuck and Sharon Clayton bought a small Southern California paper named Motorcycle Journal, then renamed it Cycle News (pictured below).  The Claytons expanded coverage and increased circulation by reporting on national racing activity on a timely basis.  At the time, there were several local motorcycle newspapers around the United States, and as soon as Cycle News began to turn a profit, the Claytons looked for opportunities to replicate its business model by acquiring smaller, established titles.  In Ohio, John Penton had launched a paper called State Motorcycle News, and in 1968 the Claytons acquired it, renaming it Cycle News East and changing the California paper’s name to Cycle News West.  Cycle News West continued to publish weekly, and Cycle News East shifted from a monthly to twice-a-month publication.


Owning publications in the eastern and western United States created a synergy and economy of scale that the Claytons’ leading competitor, Motor Cycle Weekly, could not match.  Cycle News took over as the dominant force for motorcycle news, and a third paper, named Dixie Cycle News, based near Atlanta, was launched in 1970.  Cycle News East and Dixie Cycle News published on alternating weeks.  But expansion was not always successful.  A Cycle News Central, based in Austin, Texas, was launched, but never got off the ground.  Rather, during the recession of the 1970s, the Claytons found greater success by reversing course toward consolidation, rather than expansion. 


In 1973, Cycle News East and Dixie Cycle News were combined, publishing weekly from offices in Tucker, Georgia.  Combined circulation of western and eastern weekly editions gave national advertisers an excellent and timely medium, and a rivalry launched between the staffs of the two papers (“West is Best” vs. “We Don’t Care How They Hell They Do It In California.”) became light-hearted fun and fueled readership.  The eastern paper’s irreverent slogan came from the fact that Chuck Clayton incessantly held up California as the birthplace of everything that was smart and worthwhile, a belief with which eastern staffers did not necessarily agree.  Thus, a bumper sticker was born and t-shirt sales became a lucrative sideline. 


The ultimately fatal challenges for Cycle News began as early as the mid-1980s.  With motorcycle sales on the decline, the eastern office was closed in 1985 and the western paper became the sole national vehicle for the Cycle News brand.  The business synergy of two talent pools and two distribution points was lost.  Furthermore, news journalism would soon face a revolutionary force with the launch of the World Wide Web Project in August, 1991.  Chuck Clayton, the creative force behind Cycle News, died in 1992, and by mid-decade use and application of the Internet was growing by 100 percent per year. 


Cycle News, like all print news media, entered the new millennia with an uncertain future.  Some of its competition came from its own Cycle News Online web site, which created a service called “Virtual Grandstand” that delivered news and results of the major national races on almost a real-time basis.  As Jason Weigandt stated recently in a feature about the evolution of motorcycle news media in Racer X Illustrated, “But the real credit for reaching the future first goes to . . . Cycle News, a publishing company that now has to wrestle the very internet beast it helped create.”


With Cycle News no longer on news stands or in the mail box, Cycle News Online is still intact.  Publisher Bob NorVelle states, “Although we have ceased publishing Cycle News the newspaper, we shall continue to maintain the website and post up-to-date information about motorcycle sport.  We wish to continue to serve our many readers and to this end we will continue to feature the best and most up-to-date news possible.  Thanks for sticking with us.”


The motorcycle industry rumor mill reports that there are buyers looking at the assets of Cycle News, but that the company’s debt, including unpaid obligations to many of its freelance writers, will be a major hurdle in resurrecting the paper.  If a solution is not found, the image at the head of this story will be the last cover you will see of Cycle News, the paper.  To access Cycle News Online, click here


What Cycle News was to me

By Ed Youngblood


To explain what Cycle News was to me, I must return briefly to pre-Cycle News days when I was in graduate school at Ohio University, studying to earn my PhD in English Literature.  I held a graduate assistantship and earned my pittance by teaching basic courses in American Literature and composition.  Sometimes I thought the only person in the room learning was me, and what I was learning was that I didn’t much like teaching.  After my second year, I was struck by a bolt of luck.  Ohio University was launching a new scholarly journal called The Milton Quarterly, and I was asked if I would like to trade my teaching gig for the title of Assistant Editor.


Playing at publishing opened a whole new world to me.  I learned to edit copy, I wrote reviews of books by guys who were about ten miles above me on the academic food chain, I managed our worldwide circulation (300 names in a 3x5 card box), I pasted up pages, I drove them to the printer, and I drove the finished journals back to the University where I stuck on the mailing labels.  I loved every aspect of it.  It was exciting and creative, and I learned to dearly love the smell of printer’s ink.  After two years of this, I had completed my course work for my degree and only a dissertation stood between me and a PhD.  I looked to the future and found it horrifying.  Soon, I would be back in the classroom, for the rest of my life.  What the hell had I done?


I arrived at Ohio University in 1965, almost exactly when Chuck and Sharon Clayton started Cycle News.  I bought a single-cylinder BMW for local transportation, and got involved in the local cycle scene.  I hooked up with a professional flattracker named Alton Story, and we hit the road almost every weekend during the summer.  From southern Ohio, we would go as far as Trenton, New Jersey or Chicago to race, starting Friday afternoon and sometimes returning in the early morning hours on Sunday.  Cycle News East launched in 1968, and to make pocket money I would take along a camera and submit race reports and photos from the weekend.  It didn’t pay zip, but it was thrilling.  I was getting published, and I was helping
Cycle News spread the news.


A year later, just as I was facing my self-imposed career crisis, I got a call from Paul Cosner, the editor of Cycle News East.  He said he was heading for the Golden State to fill a vacancy at Cycle News West, and he wondered if I would like to have his job.  I discussed the opportunity with my wife, Margaret, and we decided it was the right thing to do.  It didn’t pay much, but after getting both motorcycle grease and printer’s ink under my nails, I simply could not face the prospect of spending the rest of my life in a tweed jacket in the front of a classroom.  We drove to Cleveland to meet Sharon Clayton, who had flown in from California, and I accepted the job.


I was in the job only about a year and a half when the AMA recruited me to be managing editor of American Motorcyclist, and I accepted, not dreaming that I would spend the next 28 years working for that organization.  For me—and for many, many others—Cycle News was a launching pad for a fulfilling career.  We began to call the company "Clayton College" because of the huge number of people the Clayton’s recruited into the motorcycle industry, then matriculated to other important jobs, not just as journalists, but also as publishers and executives.  Cycle News not only delivered the news to the American motorcycling community, but in many cases it delivered the talent to the American motorcycle industry. 


Those short two years at Cycle News were some of the most exciting, fulfilling, and interesting of my life.  Chuck Clayton had begun his career at Cycle World, but that didn’t last long.  Chuck was a maverick, a renegade, and a visionary, and I cannot picture him ever taking orders within a chain of command for long.  He flourished when he created his own publication, but I suspect he would have failed without his partner.  Like any visionary, not all of Chuck’s ideas were good, and for even the good ones he needed someone to follow through, back-fill, and get traction as he stormed off after his next vision.  Sharon was the perfect partner to turn his ideas into reality.  He was the right brain, and she was the left brain of Cycle News.  I’ll always be grateful that they offered me an opportunity at precisely the time I felt I needed it.  The timing could not have been better.

Given this personal experience, I suppose I cannot be objective, but I think the demise of Cycle News is a hard blow to our ailing motorcycle industry.  To read the thoughts of others on this subject, click here.